To say the last 6+ months have been tough is an understatement of almost hilarious proportions… It might be funny if it weren’t for people dying, massive unemployment, political chaos, and (not to be underestimated) the psychological weight borne by folks who aren’t even directly affected by those other problems.
Musicians have been hit hard, with gigs of all kinds pretty much disappearing and no reprieve in sight… But that also extends to plenty of other crafts, pursuits, and professions. If nothing else, we’ve been spending an awful lot of time cooped up and isolated from others. That takes a toll.
I’m not here (at least not at this moment) to lament the goings on in the world, but it’s important to mention them. After all, it’s the context that damn near everything has to exist within right now. We don’t have a choice in the matter.
We do, however, have a choice about how we spend these bleeding together days, how we react to the evaporation of so many things we took for granted less than a year ago. It’s a big ol’ setback – there’s no denying it – but as always, we get to pick an attitude.
I’ve been listening to an audiobook called “Ego is The Enemy” by Ryan Holiday, and he brings up an idea of Robert Greene‘s that struck a particularly resonant chord with me. The concept is simple: Alive Time vs. Dead Time – active or passive, in motion or sitting still, doing or procrastinating.
A degree of Dead Time is fine. It’s called rest…
But when calamity strikes and everything sucks, it’s way too easy to let the death of action become the default. Especially now, Netflix and bullshit seem like an obvious way to while away the hours while the world’s on pause.
I’m certainly guilty of it, especially over the last couple of weeks. Even since March, I’ve gone through waves of action and inaction – and most of the usually “productive” people I talk to have experienced much of the same. This idea of Alive Time and Dead Time is helping me reframe that, though – the time we spend doesn’t necessarily have to be toward a goal or an outcome, but we should strive to make it alive…
Thinking about it this way lets us off the hook a little bit when there might not be performances to prepare for, or really things to look forward to at all. We don’t have to think about Alive Time solely as practice or business building or content making – it’s also creative experiments, reading, journaling, spending time in nature, reaching out to loved ones, even things that are relatively relaxing and idle can be alive if we have the right mindset about them.
Dead Time, however, has just as many faces… Mindless social media scrolling, watching Letterkenny for the hundredth time without really paying attention, wallowing in gigless, listless pandemic-induced indifference…
We’d likely all agree that Alive Time is “better,” that we want our lives to reflect time spent in that way, but that doesn’t make it any easier to stay on top of, especially in the wake of mental health struggles, uncertainty, fear, stress, and all of the other obstacles that we’re fighting – even those of us fortunate enough to be healthy, to still be earning a living in one way or another.
I still want to be “productive” with work and writing and practice and recording music and all of that good stuff, but this seems like a deeper way to consider the actions of a given day or moment. I’ll cut myself some slack for the psychological and professional burdens of 2020, but I’d like to spend my time being alive.
In fact, let’s encourage one another to do so.
Since I’m bringing it up thirdhand, I’ll leave you with an excerpt from an article of Holiday’s on the same subject:
“We think, This is just a job, this is just a crappy couple of [months, minutes, weeks] it doesn’t matter.
Like Robert says, if you’re going to think like that, you might as well be dead. Your mind apparently is.
So let that catch you the next time you find yourself sitting on your hands or goofing off as you wait. Let it jolt you back into line. Pick up a book, pick up a pen and get back to work.”